Have you ever wondered what an English Language Learner feels like... how much work it is to learn a new language in school? Well, I got a small taste of it when Ms. Gutierrez handed me a letter in Spanish.
I certainly know that it does not compare to coming to a new country and entering a school where the majority of people speak English, but nonetheless, it made me nervous. She told me she wrote it in Spanish because her best thinking and expression is done that way. Should I ask someone to translate it for me? I though about that... it would be easy. Someone else would do the work for me. But, that is not what our students do when I walk into their classes. That is not how you learn. Our students use their resources such as changing the language in settings on their iPad, finding Spanish resources online, using the camera and the translate app to decipher the language, and just plain struggling until they get it. They have determinition, they have passion, and they have grit. They also have wonderful teachers who support them and understand that struggling is where the learning occurs.
So, for me... how could I take the easy way out? I started by trying to read the letter. After all, I did take Spanish in high school and did fairly well. That did not work. While I could read many of the words on the page, I could not read enough of them to make meaning. So, I opened up the translate app and held my iPad above the page to capture the words on the page. That didn't work. Translate does not read handwriting.
I had to understand the letter... I had to make meaning of the words; so I decided to type the letter, as written in Spanish, into Google Docs. I knew then that I could use the "translate document" feature. So I did it... word after word I retyped the letter. What a reward when I had the computer translate my Spanish typing into English. It wasn't perfect, as we all know, but it enabled me to make meaning of a document that I otherwise would not have been able to read.
In the end, I learned so much about my own learning. Educators call this metacognition... I call it knowing what to do when you don't know what to do. I also learned so much about our students and how having a growth mindset is so important in learning, especially when the learning is difficult.
Thank you Ms. Gutierrez, not only for your kind and inspirational words, but for being their for our students and always inviting me into your classroom so see the great learning taking place.
Thank you students for inspiring me through your hard work and determination for it is those traits that are more important that natural ability!
"Believing in yourself and fighting for your dreams is what enables you to live each day and face every obstacle."
Whittney Smith, Ed.D.
Dr. Smith is the Principal of Mineola High School in Garden City Park, NY. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Ruth Ammon School of Education at Adelphi University.